Grant-maker Nesta plans to focus its activity on three major areas, says chief executive

Ravi Gurumurthy says he hopes the innovation charity can help make a 'big impact' in the selected areas

Ravi Gurumurthy
Ravi Gurumurthy

The innovation charity Nesta is set to focus its grant-making efforts on three core areas, its chief executive has told Third Sector

Ravi Gurumurthy, who joined the charity in December after six years based in New York as chief innovation officer of the International Rescue Committee, said Nesta was in the process of identifying three major challenges on which it could focus its efforts over the next few years. 

Gurumurthy said Nesta, which conducts research and policy work, and provides funds and support to innovative ideas, had developed a range of capabilities that he wanted to focus on key areas.

“I’d like us to be quite mission-driven, so driven very much by how we make a quantifiable difference to those defining challenges facing the country,” he said. 

“We have had thematic priorities, such as education, health and so on, but I would say that the organisation has played in a lot of different sectors and made lots of small bets.

“There are good arguments for doing that, but I feel that if we can focus a bit more we’ve got more chance of a big impact.”

Gurumurthy said Nesta was in a process of working out between now and July what those priorities would be. 

“There’s no shortage of difficult, intractable problems that we and the rest of the world are facing, but we are going to try to quantify how much impact we could have and at the end of it set some clear goals,” he said. 

“There are certain challenges facing the country that are pretty existential. Climate change is the obvious one. 

“Others include how to tackle the stagnant productivity that has affected the country since the financial crash. 

“If we are in that situation in another 10 years we are going to face quite challenging social tensions and fiscal problems, so that feels incredibly important.”

Gurumurthy also mentioned tackling cultural divides created by immigration, the health of democracy and social mobility.

“My theory is that if we can focus our resources on those three big challenges and see them through, we can actually have a big, large-scale impact,” he said. 

He said it remained to be decided how long the organisation would retain the goals, but he wanted it to be a long-term commitment. 

“I’d like us to get in a position where we focus on these areas and say we’re going to stick at these for five years or more,” Gurumurthy said. 

“You do need to be able to make changes, but if we are being successful the only way to really achieve impact is to stick at it in the long term.”

Nesta invests about £15m each year and is generally able to lever in a further £30m of further funding from government and other foundations over the same period. 

Gurumurthy said he hoped Nesta would be able to work with other funders in the identified areas because he expected “quite a lot of funding” would be needed to see major projects through. 

“The more we can align multiple funders behind bigger bets, the more chance of impact we’ve got,” he said. 

“What isn’t sensible is lots of organisations with relatively small pots of money working in isolation.”

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